LeShun Daniels' 'accountability' key for Iowa coaches

Chad Leistikow
Iowa's LeShun Daniels Jr. runs the ball against Missouri State in 2013.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa football coaches rave about the luxury of having four very good running backs. It's one of the deepest, most-talented positions on the 2015 roster.

But ultimately, the program desires a workhorse back, and "accountability" is the key buzzword for who gets to be that person.

"What we would like is for somebody to be the guy," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Saturday, "then somebody to spell him."

If things go as planned, LeShun Daniels Jr. will be the guy and roughly double his total of 51 career carries in Iowa's first two games. That would be a positive indicator that Daniels could become just the third 1,000-yard rusher for Iowa in the last 10 years.

Why junior Daniels (51 career carries, 191 yards) over senior Jordan Canzeri (207 career carries, 1,089 yards) on the depth chart?

"LeShun is healthy now. He's a big back with good lateral movement," Davis said. "We're still excited about Jordan. But coming out of spring and opening up camp, LeShun is No. 1."

Daniels wasn't available for interviews at Saturday's media day — head coach Kirk Ferentz said Daniels was "nicked up" but that it was minor and they wanted to "get him off his feet." Ferentz expected Daniels to be on the field at Iowa's annual Kids Day at Kinnick on Aug. 15 — Iowa's only open practice of fall camp (gates open at 11 a.m.

Running backs coach Chris White explained more about what Iowa fans can expect from Daniels this fall.

"A guy like LeShun, we want to get him 20-25 carries like Mark (Weisman) did and see if we can break some runs," White said. "Instead of a 10-, 12-yarder, let's get a 30-, 40-yarder. I think LeShun has that ability."

Iowa likes that the 6-foot Daniels followed through on a request to trim down after foot surgery cut short his sophomore season. Daniels reported to spring ball 5-10 pounds leaner, down to 225.

"Accountability and trust is absolutely crucial," White said. "We feel that way about LeShun."

Even though he was limited to seven yards on five carries in the April 25 spring game, the combination of trust, size and explosiveness moved Daniels to the top.

The other three running backs that Iowa loves each fall short of that every-down back standard:

•Canzeri (5-9, 192) has suffered injuries throughout his career. Planning on him for 20-25 carries a game would be risky. "When Jordan's healthy, he's a really good back," White said. "He has his own niche. We need him to take over the third-down role for sure (from Damon Bullock)."

•Redshirt sophomore Akrum Wadley (5-11, listed at 185) has shown brilliant flashes, including a 106-yard game against Northwestern last year, but has struggled with fumbles and keeping his weight up. "If he can get to around 190 pounds, those fumbling issues, you won't see them," White said, "because he'll be strong enough to hold the ball, strong enough to run through a tackle."

•Redshirt sophomore Derrick Mitchell (6-1, 212) has been impressive since converting from wide receiver in the spring. His only strike is that he lacks experience. "He runs the ball a lot better than I anticipated, and obviously he can catch the ball out of the backfield," White said. "And he's got the toughness, I think, to be a third-down back, too, and get some carries."

All three of those guys are nipping at Daniels' heels, but it's his job to lose.

Ferentz offered this on Daniels during the Big Ten Conference Media Days in Chicago: "In LeShun's case, we probably didn't give him enough rope last year."

Daniels scored the first Iowa touchdown of the season — and then got only six carries in the next six games before his regular-season-ending injury. He got one rushing attempt in the bowl game.

Instead, Weisman — a converted fullback — was Iowa's leader in carries and rushing yards for the third consecutive year.

"We want LeShun to be the type of guy that takes Mark's carries," White said. "He's more of a natural running back than Mark was."


Iowa had five 1,000-yard rushers in Kirk Ferentz's first seven years as head coach; that threshold has been reached in only two out of nine years since. A look at Iowa's rushing leaders by year under Ferentz:

2014 — Mark Weisman, 812 (213 carries)

2013 — Mark Weisman, 975 (227 carries)

2012 — Mark Weisman, 815 (159 carries)

2011 — Marcus Coker 1,384 (281 carries)

2010 — Adam Robinson, 941 (203 carries)

2009 — Adam Robinson, 834 (181 carries)

2008 — Shonn Greene, 1,850 (307 carries)

2007 — Albert Young, 968 (206 carries)

2006 — Albert Young, 779 (178 carries)

2005 — Albert Young, 1,334 (249 carries)

2004 — Sam Brownlee, 227 (94 carries)

2003 — Fred Russell, 1,355 (282 carries)

2002 — Fred Russell, 1,264 (220 carries)

2001 — Ladell Betts, 1,060 (222 carries)

2000 — Ladell Betts, 1,090 (232 carries)

1999 — Ladell Betts, 857 (189 carries)